tv NBC Nightly News NBC October 1, 2012 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
on our broadcast tonight the showdown. here we go now, two days to go until the first presidential debate. the stakes are high. that's why the intense preparations are under way to prevent a mistake that could change the race. at the brink. americans killed in a deadly new attack in afghanistan. as tonight we bring you our special coverage of a region in turmoil. tonight richard engel and lester holt in afghanistan, and ann curry inside syria. and trouble in the skies. canceled flights, emergency landings, seats coming loose in flight. a tough time for american airlines, and for the thousands of customers who fly every day. "nightly news" begins now. good evening. at this point you have to assume both men have the facts down cold.
one of them, after all, has been president for four years. the other has been running for longer than that. barack obama and mitt romney are both nearing the end of intense debate prep, and coaching sessions. and at this point, they're designed either to create or prevent that moment that we've all seen that can somehow change the race. and with millions of americans watching these debates like a kind of super bowl of american politics, the stakes are high as the two men face each other in denver, just two days from now. we begin tonight with nbc's andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom. andrea, good evening. >> good evening, brian. it is the political super bowl, or perhaps the world series. mitt romney, behind in all battleground polls for the last three weeks, now has the most to gain from a game-changing night. and the most to lose if he doesn't turn it around. as the candidates head to debate camp, rolling up their sleeves, getting down to work, each claims to be the underdog. >> governor romney, he's -- he's a good debater.
i'm just okay. >> he plays, barack obama, he plays them well, too. i hate to tell you. >> reporter: mitt romney practicing with ohio senator rob portman looks like he's been getting a workout. the president sparring with john kerry, even chose a key suburb in nevada, a battleground state, for his practice session. neither candidate is known as a great debater. aides say the president doesn't like to talk in sound bites, and can be patronizing. >> you're likeable enough, hillary. >> thank you. >> reporter: romney, say advisers, can come off as out of touch with average voters. >> rick, i'll tell you what, 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet? >> reporter: in the 52 years since the debates were first televised the first rule is appearances count. nixon should have shaved. al bush shouldn't have sighed. and the camera never blinks. challengers can benefit just by being on the stage with an incumbent president. >> are you better off than you were four years ago? >> reporter: it helps to have a well rehearsed one-liner.
>> governor, there you go again. >> reporter: most memorably, lloyd bentsen's takedown of dan quayle in 1988. >> jack kennedy was a friend of mine. senator, you're no jack kennedy. >> reporter: but beware that deer in the head lights moment when a candidate forgets he's expected to be human. >> governor, if kitty dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer? >> no, i don't, bernard. >> i feel sorry for these candidates because there's a bunch of people sitting around a room right now telling them to do ten impossible things and then at the end saying be yourself. >> reporter: and if you lose the first round you can recover at the next match with a well executed zinger. >> i am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. >> reporter: even a strong debate performance by john kerry wasn't enough to defeat george w. bush, but debates matter because it's the first chance to size up the candidates in
unscripted moments one-on-one. brian? >> andrea mitchell, who by the way will be our fact checker during our live coverage of the debate wednesday night here on nbc. andrea, thanks. more american deaths today in afghanistan. and the rising death toll numbers will bring more question about the mission in a very unsteady region. tonight we have special coverage of that region, many believe is at the brink, with americans there in harm's way. we have three reports this evening from ann curry, richard engel, and lester holt. we'll begin with lester in kabul in afghanistan. lester, good evening. >> brian, good evening to you. three americans, nearly a dozen others, killed in a suicide bomb attack in the eastern province of khost. for some time now military officials have been saying the taliban have been weakened and are avoiding direct conflict. still they are finding new and effective ways to strike. the three u.s. military police officers were on foot patrol in a market with afghan police when
the suicide bomber struck. four afghan officers, and six civilians were also killed, and dozens hurt. joint u.s./afghan operations are becoming more common, and so are the risks. on saturday an american soldier and a u.s. civilian contractor were killed by an afghan soldier. the latest in a growing series of insider attacks. despite mounting worries, afghan commandos firing live rounds still train side by side with elite american special forces. >> right here in front of you. >> reporter: you can't stop working with these guys? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: at this level, joint combat operations are now the rule. americans no longer go it alone. >> i'm very impressed with your training here today. >> reporter: general tony thomas heads all special operations forces in afghanistan. his men rely on their afghan partners. a relationship the taliban hopes to undermine. >> we lost another soldier to a green-on-blue attack.
what are we going to do about it? >> it's -- it's intolerable. it's a little bit of a quandary. but partnering means staying close. >> reporter: washington has accepted that the u.s. can't shoot its way out of this war, and so while right now there are special operations troops engaging insurgents in these mountains along the pakistan border, others are in small towns like this, engaged in the mundane task of nurturing local government. afghan national police now man this lookout over a small southern village, while their u.s. green beret advisers work with local leaders on civic improvement. >> once the afghans can take care of themselves and they're self-sustainable, they're telling the negatives, we don't want you here. we don't need you here. >> reporter: the plan is to train afghans to secure themselves by 2014. but u.s. commanders want assurances that until then, afghans will guard their back. >> it's their leadership that has to come to play to reduce the threat to us. >> reporter: over the last eight days i've seen a lot of
interaction between u.s. and afghan troops. some of it relaxed. but, brian, at all times there's one or two fully battle-dressed american soldiers with their fingers near the trigger, just in case. >> lester holt starting off our coverage in kabul tonight. lester, thanks. now to our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, also in kabul, on what's been accomplished and what hasn't in over a decade now in that country. richard, good evening. >> good evening, brian. this is a country where a group of lightly armed insurgents defeated the soviet union. it seems we haven't won here, either. we haven't lost exactly. mostly, we're leaving this country because we're tired, and tired of writing blank war checks, when the taliban haven't been defeated. this woman is about to die, executed for adultery. the man she was with got off scot-free. the taliban recently filmed this
video of their justice as a warning, and to say they're making a comeback. some 30 miles away, in the village of shakar dhara, we saw few signs of what the u.s. would consider progress in afghanistan, and no evidence that the american plan to hand over to a credible, stable afghan government, will work. these village elders tell me once u.s. troops leave, a civil war will begin, and u.s.-trained afghan forces will not be able to stop it. are you preparing for this fight? are you already stockpiling weapons and ammunition and getting yourself ready? yes, we are. we will definitely fight, he says. and what about the afghan government? "it's meaningless here" they say. you think it's possible that the taliban will try and come back? "yes, they will," he says. "it makes a decade's worth of american battle seem futile. it wasn't always like this. >> the united states military
has begun strikes. >> reporter: at first -- >> one, two, three -- >> reporter: the -- the war had momentum. and a clear purpose. al qaeda with bases in afghanistan attacked the united states on 9/11. just three months later, the u.s. drove the taliban from power. al qaeda and osama bin laden were on the run. it was done with a few hundred cia officers, special forces, and air power. a quick victory. but not decisive. and then came the distraction of a new war, in iraq. the taliban regrouped, and the u.s. began a nation-building project that has been far less successful. the government washington helped put in place is widely considered corrupt. president karzai is supposed to be out by 2015. but afghans don't believe it. the war has brought some benefits to afghans.
3 million girls now go to school. that was banned under the taliban. better health care and new clinics have boosted life expectancies by as much as 22 years. but those gains could temporary. if the villagers in shakar dhara are right and the afghan government can't hold the country together, the taliban will fight their way back, undefeated by a super power. and the cost of all of this, brian, about $600 billion. and the meter is still running. >> richard engel, who covered the duration of this war, part of our team in kabul tonight. richard, thanks. now we switch over to the 18-month-long conflict in syria. a full-blown civil war, with hundreds dying every week. more than the u.s. lost in vietnam at the height of that war, and it's getting worse. nbc's ann curry managed to get safely in and out of syria. she joins us tonight from the
safety of the nearby turkish border. ann, good evening. >> brian, good evening to you. this war, that has already killed an estimated 30,000 people in the last 18 months is intensifying with stepped-up attacks by both sides. the fight is on for aleppo, syria's largest city and one of the world's oldest. the rebels call it a decisive battle. it is also deadly. this weekend the intense combat triggered a massive fire in the city's ancient marketplace. a priceless landmark, reducing much of it to ashes. we made our way in to syria, past scenes of devastation, to the outskirts of aleppo. to meet rebel commander ahmed afaj once a local businessman now driven by the loss of his own brother, killed in combat. he leads more than 2500 rebels. all sunni muslims.
and says he is battling shiite militants fighting for the regime, mostly from outside syria. iranian and hezbollah fighters are here in large numbers, he says. when we kill them, we find their i.d. cards. the u.s. has accused iran of meddling in syria. the commander goes farther. he says of the regime, all of the planes they're using, the new ones, are from iran. and, he says, government planes are dropping a new kind of weapon. bombs in barrels, with chemicals, he says, that take out city blocks. a whole family was in here, he says, and an old man. the commander says 500 new rebel recruits volunteer every month. some look to be barely in their teens. but what do we hear? suddenly the rebels hear a jet overhead. one of the syrian regime's feared warplanes, a
russian-made mig. after the new recruits took cover their commander made a bold statement. he says, if the united states would enforce a no-fly zone, or give us anti-aircraft weapons, the war would be over in two or three days. and so would assad's regime. you have a message for president assad? "my message is clear," he said, "surrender now. he killed our children and destroyed our homes. we will not allow him to lead syria." if nothing stops this war, the u.n. estimates that as many as 700,000 syrians will have fled to neighboring countries by the end of this year. and there is growing concern the violence could trigger further sectarian conflict, and widen a fault line in the region, already at the brink. brian? >> ann curry after a dicey day of reporting in syria today. and our thanks to our team on the ground from across the region tonight. ann curry, richard engel and lester holt. thank you all.
we'll have much more of their reporting on our website tonight, nbcnightlynews.com. when our broadcast continues, emergency landings, loose seats, late flights. what's going on at american airlines these days? and later a woman making a difference for young girls who don't have another home to go home to.
been installed and the track may have been defective, forcing the pilots to radio in an emergency. >> during climbout, rows, passenger seats rows 12 "d," "e" and "f" came loose out of the floor. passengers are unable to sit in that seat. >> reporter: then today more seats came loose on a new york to miami flight that had to turn back. the airline is now proactively inspecting six more 757s. yet another black eye as the bankrupt airlines on-time arrival numbers plunging from 82% in september 2011 to just 58% this september. compared to 86% at southwest. and 88% at delta. american blames the slowdown on union pilots writing up trivial maintenance issues. the pilots blame the airlines' old planes. but passengers are losing their patience. from chicago -- >> if they don't fly i don't have a status on another airline. so it's a big issue for me. >> reporter: to miami.
>> shakes my confidence as a passenger, that i'm going to be able to get to my destination on time. >> reporter: american is concerned that all of this is starting to damage its brand, just as it makes a major investment in planes. replacing the oldest fleet in the country with what it promises will be the youngest fleet in the country. >> i think for american airlines time is of the essence. you're only as good as your last flight on airlines. people still have choices. >> reporter: so far there's no sign of a slowdown on holiday bookings, but that could change. meanwhile, today an american pilot insisted the airline is still very safe. >> you know, if i wouldn't put my kids on the airplane, i wouldn't put your kids on the airplane. and i still always feel like when i go to work, hey, i could put my kids on the airplane and we're going to be safe. >> reporter: in a bottom-line business, that may be the real bottom line. tom costello, nbc news, miami. and up next, the news out of l.a. today about this year's oscars.
viewers out west tonight, we have breaking news story of a train derailment in california. our correspondent tonight, diana, in our los angeles bureau. >> good evening, a semi tractor-trailer drove into an amtrak train south of fresno causing the last three cars on the train to derail. the train was carrying 169 passengers and four crew members bound for bakersfield from oakland. more than 40 people were taken to hospitals. fortunately, the sheriff's department said there were no serious injuries. while the authorities are investigating the cause of the accident. it happened at a gated crossing that has been the site of collisions before. now, back to brian williams. first monday in october. that means first day of the new supreme court term when we learn which of all the cases that will affect our lives the court has agreed to decide or cast aside. our man at the court pete williams says to expect big decisions on voting rights, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage. the justices today refused to hear a claim that those airport
full-body scanners allow the tsa to see too much of us. some notable departures in the news tonight, beginning with james burke. widely agreed to be among the most effective ceos of the modern era. he ran johnson & johnson during the tylenol tampering crisis. his steady stewardship became a harvard business school case study. jim burke was a navy veteran. after his business career he chaired the partnership for a drug-free america and was awarded the presidential medal of freedom. the word from los angeles today, seth macfarlane will host this year's oscars, a master of all voices, says his goal is to channel the great hosts of the past, like bob hope and johnnie carson. up next, an update on a little girl who
thousands of dollars to these kids, and the woman who is making a difference in their lives. we first met the girls of the orphanage three years ago. oh, you want me to put on your glasses, and you're going to put on my glasses. how do we look? they were just being girls. but just the same, their life took place inside an orphanage in afghanistan. we met and got to know the woman who runs the place andaja ferree. today we're happy to report all of the children are thriving. for one, the girl with the glasses, has since come to visit us here in the u.s. she is firmly focused on getting into college. she loves math and english. and the law. >> i want to be a lawyer in the future. i want to help my poor people. >> reporter: andaja is still devoted to making a good home for these kids, even while the security situation crumbles all
around them. >> even for these guys, when they go to school, nobody because maybe a suicide bombing, a bomb blast on the street on their way to school, and get killed because it happened many, many, many times, unfortunately. >> reporter: farzana is 16 now. today she did something unheard of when we first met. she played soccer in downtown kabul. >> i'm very lucky that i play soccer in orphanage. so we know that -- it's not very good. so i feel very lucky. >> reporter: it's a small victory for one group of girls caught up in a much bigger battle. and that is our broadcast for a monday night as we start a new week. thanks for being with us. look at what we can show you. the white house tonight is the pink house for breast cancer awareness month. i'm brian williams. we'll look for you right back here tomorrow evening. thanks for being with us. good night.